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Stories from the Road: Ontario.

3 min read

In 2nd grade something happened that I’ll never forget. I actually had a teacher say to me: “Kenny put your hand down. I want somebody else to answer for a change.”

For most of my adult life I’ve written and told stories. As a playwright my job is to create a powerful narrative in a way that makes an audience consider new ideas and as an actress my job is to bring those stories to life in a way that entertain, inspire and touch people emotionally.

When I came to the Ariel Group I added a new dimension to my relationship with stories. I became a listener. In our workshops we teach storytelling skills and as a result, I get to hear LOTS of stories. And what I’ve learned is that there are Five Fundamental Narratives that move people to action.

Today I’d like to highlight what a simple, yet impactful who-I-am story can sound like. Meet Ken Coulter. Ken is a leader and innovator in the Arts.

In 1988 he helped create CCI (now called: Ontario Presents) a not-for-profit arts service organization. Nothing like it had ever existed before. He also serves on the National Committee of Arts Reach and is currently President, Elect for Rotary Club of Oakville Trafalgar. You could say that Ken is drawn to leadership roles!

I had a chance to catch up with Ken last week and asked him what story he’d tell to let someone know what kind of a leader he is. Here’s what he shared:

Well, this pretty much sums up who I am; as a kid, I loved school and I loved—and I still love—learning. I was always the first kid with my hand in the air. What’s 12 x 7? I know, 84. What’s the capital of Canada? Ottawa!

But, in 2nd grade something happened that I’ll never forget. I actually had a teacher say to me: “Kenny put your hand down. I want somebody else to answer for a change.” And so it was at that point that I realized that not everyone loved learning as much as me.

Later on, in high school, I’m sitting in advanced math class and we are studying dimensions. You know, two dimensions make up a picture or drawing. Three dimensions are defined by having length, breadth, and depth. The 4th dimension (arguably) is time. And so the teacher asks: What might the 5th dimension be? And I answer: It’s a singing group.

I’m still like that. Fast thinking. Wanting to be involved in the conversation—whatever the conversation was. And at the same time, wanting to have a laugh. Not surprising, that’s the kind of leader I am. I enjoy the conversation. And I want other people to enjoy the conversation too.

You know that parable: if you give a man a fish he’s hungry again in an hour, but if you teach him to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime? To me, that’s what a meaningful conversation with an employee is always about. Using the Socratic method of always asking questions and probing for responses. That’s how people grow and learn to be self-sufficient. How can I help others, how can I teach others the skills they need to do a better job for themselves?

When I was Theatre Manager at the Oakville Center, I would try to make sure that the people that worked for me, or with me, made as many decisions themselves as possible. I’d worked hard to create an atmosphere where that could happen. Where people wouldn’t be afraid to raise their hand with the answer.

I’m sure my 2nd grade teacher would be surprised that I put own my hand down long enough to listen, but I was always as interested in what others had to say as I was in what I was learning.

So there you have it.

A who-I-am story doesn’t have to be highly dramatic or long. A simple story that provides insight into the kind of person, and therefore the kind of leader you are, will help you better connect with your people. And once you are connected, all you have to do is teach them to fish.

Next time I’ll share one of Ken’s what-I-have learned stories. Again, it’s simple—yet impactful. Stay tuned!


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